FOUR weeks ago, David Cameron used Prime Minister’s Questions to question Sadiq Khan’s integrity and whether the senior Labour politician was suitable to be Mayor of London because he had previously shared a platform with extremists whose views are repugnant.
Some seasoned commentators walked out of PMQs because they were so disgusted by the tone of the exchanges. The venomous nature of the personal attacks, which had begun several weeks earlier, extended far beyond the accepted norms of election campaigns.
Fast forward four weeks and the Conservative leader is more than happy to share a platform with the self-same Mr Khan, the bus driver’s son who is now one of the most senior Muslim politicians in Europe following his emphatic victory, because they are both on the Remain side when it comes to the EU referendum on June 23.
Not only does this reveal the hypocrisy of Mr Cameron’s politics – Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has still refused to confirm whether he trusts Mr Khan with matters of national security – but it is indicative of the extent to which Tory politicians in particular are using the referendum for personal advantage rather than having a mature debate about Britain’s role in Europe.
The contrast with the 1975 vote could not be greater. Even though seven Cabinet ministers, all political big hitters, opposed Harold Wilson’s recommendation for Britain to stay in the then EEC, there was no need for a post-referendum reshuffle because the campaign – and debate – was conducted in a civilised manner.
In many respects, Mr Cameron only has himself to blame for his political predicament as a former Cabinet minister waded in and described Boris Johnson, the public face of the Brexit campaign, as “a nicer version of Donald Trump”. If he had followed Mr Wilson’s example in the first place, and shown greater courtesy towards his opponents across the political spectrum, he will not be facing the political fights of his life both now and after the referendum.
Sea of concerns: Border patrols need stepping up
UNTIL now, the EU migrant crisis has focused on the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers who have been trying to cross the Mediterranean by increasingly desperate means, trusting their luck to people-smuggling gangs and flimsy boats that have then capsized because of the sheer weight of numbers.
David Cameron has, in fairness, deployed warships to the region to prevent these crossings which have seen thousands of luckless people drown. His argument is that this humanitarian crisis needs treating at source before those fleeing persecution, or simply seeking a new life, reach mainland Europe.
An issue already polarising the EU referendum campaign, it is highlighted closer to home by concerns about the security of Britain’s own borders – irrespective of the outcome of the June 23 vote – following the dramatic rescue of 18 Albanians when their inflatable boat started sinking off the Kent coast on Saturday night. Reports that there are just three Border Force vessels patrolling 7,700 miles of coastline do not inspire confidence, and the latest warnings by respected individuals like Lord West, the former head of the Royal Navy, and John Vine, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration until 2014, need to be taken seriously.
Unless UK ports have the resources, whether it be naval vessels or satellite technology, to monitor the waters off Britain’s coast, and apprehend those trying to breach this country’s borders by unauthorised means, more and more refugees will be encouraged to make the misguided journey because they believe there is little chance of being apprehended. Mr Cameron has been warned.
Football own goal: Ban hooligans for life
EVEN though football is a family-friendly sport, a disturbing number of high-profile incidents point to a perturbing under-current of hooliganism.
After Derby County players fled for their safety following their play-off semi-final with Hull City, and then a far more serious pitch invasion at the Scottish Cup Final, Barnsley’s victory at Wembley on Sunday – a win which saw the Tykes return to the Championship – was overshadowed by so-called supporters of Millwall FC trying to force their way into sections of the ground housing supporters of the Yorkshire club.
Unless life bans are imposed on the miscreants rather than mealy-mouthed warnings, law-abiding families will be deterred from supporting their team. Is that what football wants?